Graduation Speech

To make a long story short: I don’t shed a tear for my school days. For years, I struggled to get up, stood small and shy at the bus, then waited outside the classroom for the sometimes rather dull lessons, or frantically tried, with stomach cramps, to force the last vocabulary words, the cosine theorem, or Mendel’s laws into short-term memory. During the break, I struggled for a cocoa and a salami roll at the cafeteria, wolfed it down, and went back to class. My understanding of teaching changed enormously over time.
At the enrollment ceremony here in this forum ages ago, I sat tense, wide-eyed, mouth open, down there waiting to be called. I experienced the first years of school with quiet awe, frightened striving. With increasing experience, experienced disappointments (about myself, the classmates, the teachers), my gaze became clearer, the mouth critical, even sometimes mocking. I learned to distinguish between teachers who were really interested in the education of their students and those who were just killing time. Who knew what they were talking about, who loved what they were teaching, and who was basically incompetent, who had a very narrow perspective. Who was able to inspire the class for something through real zeal, and who was just earning his money here. The sudden realization of being able to judge, and with these judgments being on the same line with many classmates, gave a certain sense of power: us versus the teachers. This period was probably the most difficult time for the teachers and the most exhilarating for the students: I am thinking of some indomitable fits of laughter in class because someone had once again far surpassed the previous audacity and then disappeared into the safety of the crowd. I would rather not recount an episode here, as this would undeservedly hit the teacher in question hard. In general, in retrospect, I feel some pity for the victims of these outbreaks of meanness. In the last 2 or 3 years I began to see the school (and the teachers in it) more calmly. Actually, that wasn’t a bad time after all: hardly any serious coercion anymore, the atmosphere more relaxed, the orientation away from school had begun. Sure, there were and still are teachers who I consider absolutely unsuitable for this job, even threatening in their multiplier function. But the immediate anger about them has largely faded, and I even feel a certain schadenfreude: I can leave here and you have to stay here. Those who have become particularly dear to me in recent years are the teachers who enjoy their profession, who don’t simply fulfill the curriculum, but who turn knowledge into education. Who let people discuss things confidently in class, who can make the whole range of their subject comprehensible, who make the connections with all the other subjects and ultimately with the real world and make them comprehensible. It is these teachers who are also active in and around the school in their free time. They are the ones who lead the theater groups, organize the sports events, advise conscientious objectors, supervise the photo lab, support the student council with words and deeds, help with the preparation for the Abitur, or are simply available for a personal conversation. People who, through their whole person and their actions in everyday life, are a real role model. What I have learned for life, I have learned from such teachers. All in all, however, the feeling remains that, in view of the time spent, I will not be able to take much with me from the lessons into life after school. There is much, too much, superfluous ballast in the curricula. Expertise that is better off at university. There is not a single speech in high school that does not mention the uselessness of protein biosynthesis for later life. The latest surveys confirm this: The technical knowledge of today’s high school graduates is, compared to high school graduates from the 60’s, greater, but the ability,
to make sense of the bigger picture is smaller. Well, wait, how was that now… ok I have lost my train of thoughts here… Where was I? Oh yes, the larger contexts! But the most important thing is to keep an overview in this complex world. Only those who recognize how ecology and economy are connected can successfully intervene in this system and, for example, limit environmental destruction. Whoever masters biochemistry and can create new microorganisms, but has no sense of reverence and responsibility for people and nature, will be tinkering with a biological time bomb. Those who know how to maximize operating results, but in doing so have never learned to place themselves and their actions in the larger context of society, will contribute to the destruction of a national economy. Humanistic education means to put the human being in the center, to discover him and his environment again and again, to follow attentively his relationship to himself and to the world in its constant change and to draw courageously from it the consequences for one’s own actions. However, the overall impression of the world can only be gained by those who also get involved with it, who actively connect with it, but not by those who withdraw into their niche and refuse to take responsibility for the rest. Sure, the world looks bad! A lot has happened during these school years. Wars, disintegrating states, new social problems. The hole in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect are threatening to become buzzwords that one no longer wants to hear, but would much rather devote oneself entirely to, for example, protein bio-synthesis, because at least one knows what one has. But there must be hope! In Rio there is an attempt going on right now to redefine the connections of this one world in the matter of environment, and hopefully also to find new and better arrangements. Future generations will need more and more to see the world and themselves in context. Schools should enable them to do this. In conclusion, however, my doubts prevail as to whether the school has achieved this. But perhaps precisely because of my doubts, I will strive all my life, especially in my later specialization at university, not to become a professional idiot, and not to lose sight of the connections. We are solemnly celebrating the end of our school years here. I don’t think I can graduate that much. I’ll soon feel small and stupid again, I’ll probably have stomach cramps before exams, and it’s doubtful whether the cafeteria will be much less busy than here. Not to mention getting up early.
Dear fellow graduates! Let us bid a proper farewell to our school and its teachers and to all others who have made this schooling possible, but let us not forget that from now on, more than ever, our own education will be in our own hands.







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